Colorado Residents Betting Big On Sports

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A landmark May 2018 U.S. Supreme Court ruling ruling nullified a 26-year-old federal gambling law, thereby opening the door for any state that chooses to offer Las Vegas-style sports betting.

Now, in early 2021, we are starting to get a — well, “handle” on how much people wager legally.

CO Bets has analyzed the January amounts bet on sports in 19 states, after waiting until Illinois finally announced its figure on Wednesday. The goal was to examine how much is wagered per capita in different states. (A few sports betting states like New York were not factored in because they only list monthly revenue — and not total dollars wagered).

After drilling down a bit, a short answer seems to be “on average, about a dollar or two per day.”

Another answer is: Coloradoans like to bet on sports about as much as anyone.

The figures reinforce the sense that the Rocky Mountain State is likely to continue to be a major player nationally as legal, regulated gambling expands in the U.S. in the next decade — even though it has not even been 18 months since voters approved such wagering in the state.

Just last fall, the University of Colorado became the first school in a Power 5 conference to reach an agreement with a sports betting operator, when it partnered with PointsBet.

Meanwhile, PointsBet — an Australian-based company — has relocated its core business operations from New Jersey to Colorado.

The top sports betting states per capita

Let’s start with the two biggest outliers — Nevada and New Jersey.

While Nevada has just over 3 million people, a total of $646.7 million was bet on sports there in January. That would equate to $208.61 for every man, woman, and child in the state, but it’s an inflated figure due to the glaring fact that so many of those bets were placed by out-of-state tourists.

New Jersey led the way in January with $958.8 million wagered, or $107.73 per person — on paper. But industry experts estimate that 20%-25% of that figure comes out of the pockets of New York City-area residents frustrated by that state’s refusal — so far — to legalize mobile sports betting and/or to allow such gambling at the racinos at Yonkers Raceway and Aqueduct Racetrack.

Still, it’s not much of a stretch to speculate that New Jerseyans are tops in how much they bet on sports. It also was the second state, after Nevada, to legalize casinos — in 1978. And the sports betting referendum that ultimately led to the Supreme Court ruling was backed by two-thirds of Garden State residents way back in 2011.

It’s the third state on the list for per capita betting that arguably offers a better picture — Colorado.

With few tourists heading there strictly to gamble and with few people located on a state border, the Colorado figure of $56.36 bet per capita in January seems to be a rather accurate depiction of residents’ wagering, compared to the Nevada and New Jersey examples. Colorado offers mobile sports betting and has a robust competitive marketplace of operators who advertise heavily in seeking to maximize market share.

Which states are chasing Colorado?

The story is similar in Indiana ($51.97), Pennsylvania ($48.07), and Iowa ($46.71).

Illinois’ $45.68 mark right behind comes in as well as it does because the state has allowed for remote registration thanks to the pandemic. And at this point, even if the waiver is removed, so many gambling-minded residents already have registered that it might not have a material negative impact on the monthly number — other than the potential to slow growth a bit.

New Hampshire’s January betting per share of $42.71 per person is a bit surprising, as DraftKings enjoys a monopoly on running the state lottery’s sports betting operation. The lack of legal sports betting in Maine, Vermont, and especially Massachusetts no doubt bolsters New Hampshire’s bottom line.

Next up was West Virginia at $37.56, which also attracts betting enthusiasts from Ohio and Kentucky. But the Virginia “spigot” is closing, as that state has now legalized sports betting and will keep those dollars in-state. Virginia launched in the last week of January and kicked off a brief window in January at $6.93 per person — but that will only grow, of course.

Rhode Island does not offer mobile sports betting, and Tennessee has no gambling except that option. But those states still checked in at $36.18 and $31.07, respectively.

Two of the next three jurisdictions, like Rhode Island, don’t offer the convenience of mobile sports betting: Mississippi ($22.57), Washington, D.C. ($22.43), and Delaware ($15.60). And in D.C., access to mobile isn’t quite universal — the lottery’s GamBetDC app is available throughout most of the city (except on federal property) but has been unpopular, and William Hill’s app is only available within a two-block exclusion zone around Capital One Arena.

Michigan does offer statewide mobile, but it only debuted sports betting in the last 10 days of January, so it is saddled with a modest total for the month of $15.08 per person. Like Virginia, it could be a contender once all these states post their February numbers.

Oregon’s state-run lottery has produced a tepid average of $8.31 per person for sports betting, while a lack of consumer awareness of legalization — and the fact that only retail wagering is available — likely contributes to the $5.27 figure for Montana and the $2.40 amount for Arkansas.

Accounting for all those non-bettors

Of course, the “average” bet total per month includes a large number of men, women, and children who don’t bet at all.

An American Gaming Association study found that 14% of those surveyed had “placed a traditional sports bet at a casino, online, or with a bookie in the past 12 months.”

Of that group, a remarkable 45% were aged 23-34 and 69% were male. Nearly 70% had incomes of higher than $50,000, and 41% were “multi-cultural.”

Another 8%, considered casual bettors, had placed “no traditional sports bets in past 12 months, but have placed a bet via family/friends, pool, or fantasy.” And 12% had placed “no sports bets of any kind in past 12 months, but would do so in the future.”

If we assume that 1 in 7 citizens — or 14% — make all the bets, that would tend to mean about $7-$14 a day, or $210-$420 per month.

But given that some of the 20% in two more categories likely gamble now that it is legal in their state, perhaps one-quarter of residents in these states are now legally wagering on a regular basis. That would reduce the average monthly “handle” per gambling citizen to $120-$240 per month.

Finally, even that figure is an average — not a median. So the small number of gamblers who wager thousands of dollars per month are picking up the slack for the many bettors who risk mere double digits per month.

By the time 2022 rolls around, we’ll have a better grip on all of these numbers. But already it’s safe to say that non-gamblers likely would be surprised at how much their gambling neighbors tend to risk in any given month.

John Brennan has covered NJ and NY sports business and gaming since 2002 and was a Pulitzer Prize Finalist in 2008, while reporting for The Bergen County Record.

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